Safety and Security
Serving as a Volunteer overseas entails certain safety and security risks. Living and traveling in an unfamiliar environment, a limited understanding of the local language and culture, and the perception of being a wealthy American can put a Volunteer at risk. Property theft and burglaries are not uncommon. Incidents of physical and sexual assault do occur, although most Volunteers complete their two years of service without a serious safety and security incident. Together, the Peace Corps and Volunteers can reduce risk, but cannot truly eliminate all risk. Read more on how the Peace Corps approaches safety and security.
Support from Staff
The Peace Corps’ approach to safety is a five-pronged plan to help you stay safe during your service. The plan includes information sharing, Volunteer training, site selection criteria, a detailed emergency action plan, and protocols for responding safety and security incidents.
Our first priority after an incident is to make sure the Volunteer is safe and receiving any necessary medical treatment. The faster an incident is reported, the faster we can provide support, including security, medical, emotional, and legal. Peace Corps staff will also support Volunteers who choose to make a formal complaint with local law enforcement. It’s important for Volunteers to report incidents as soon as possible after they occur so that Peace Corps can assess and determine if there is a lingering or ongoing safety and security concern for either Volunteer victim or their peer Volunteers, and take the necessary precautions to preserve the right to file a complaint if they choose to do so. The Peace Corps will train you to develop strategies mitigate risk and how to respond if you are the victim of a crime, including how to get to a safe location quickly and contact your Peace Corps office.
Crimes that do occur abroad are investigated and prosecuted by local jurisdictional authorities. If you decide to file a complaint, the Peace Corps will assist you in navigating this process. All Volunteers who are victims of crime have access to the Office of Victim Advocacy, which provides information on the medical, emotional, and legal support options available, and will support you through the process. The Office of Victim Advocacy is available 24/7.
Staying Safe: Don’t Be a Target for Crime
As a Volunteer, you must be prepared to assume a large degree of responsibility for your own safety. To reduce the likelihood that you will become a victim of crime, you can take steps to make yourself less of a target such as integrating into your community, learning the local language, acting responsibly, and abiding by Peace Corps policies and procedures. In many ways, you can do what you would do if you moved to a new city anywhere: Be cautious, check things out, ask questions, learn about your neighborhood, know where the more risky locations are, use common sense, and be aware.
Factors that Contribute to Risk
Numerous factors can heighten a Volunteer’s risk, many of which are within a Volunteer’s control. By far the most common crime that Volunteers experience is theft of property, which is more likely to happen when Volunteers are away from their sites, in crowded locations (such as markets or on public transportation), and when leaving items unattended. Crime at the village or town level is less frequent than in the large cities; people in smaller villages/towns know each other and are more likely to look out for their neighbors. Tourist attractions in large towns are favorite worksites for pickpockets.
Before you depart for service, you can take measures to reduce risk:
- Leave valuable objects in the United States, particularly those that are irreplaceable or have sentimental value
- Leave copies of important documents and account numbers with someone you trust in the States
- Purchase a hidden money pouch or “dummy” wallet as a decoy
- Purchase personal articles insurance
After you arrive in-country, you will receive detailed information about common crimes, factors that contribute to Volunteer risk, and local strategies to reduce that risk. Some of those include avoiding high-risk areas, knowing the local language, choosing safe routes for travel, and limiting alcohol consumption. You will also be informed of local safety and security policies, including any prohibitions on using certain types of public transportation, hitchhiking, and; avoiding high-risk recreation activities; and others.
Please take time to review the crime data and statistics for Cameroon.
Safety Issues In-Country
- Vehicle accidents are the single greatest risk to your safety in Cameroon. Volunteers are strongly encouraged to wear seat belts whenever available and to avoid riding in overcrowded public buses or vans. Because of the poor and dangerous conditions of roads in the interior of the country and the speed at which vehicles travel, Peace Corps/Cameroon has established a transportation policy that limits Volunteer travel to Yaoundé and the regional capitals.
- The homes of some Volunteers have been burglarized in the past, and Volunteers will need to take the same precautions they would in the United States. The Peace Corps advises on proper home safety during training, including installation of deadbolt locks and other safety features in Volunteer homes.
- In recent years, street crime has drastically increased in Cameroon, and a number of Volunteers have been victims. By far, the most common incidents are petty thefts and burglary. Many of these incidents have taken place in regional capitals. There has also been an increase in violent crime where weapons are involved (also in urban areas). Carjacking, particularly in Yaoundé and Douala, has also been reported. In rural areas, there is usually less crime; however, in some regions of the country there are incidents of road banditry.
- Volunteers are required to wear a protective helmet whenever riding a two-wheeled motorized vehicle or a bicycle. Failure to comply with this regulation will result in immediate administrative separation from the Peace Corps and you will be sent home. There is no appeal.
- Physical and sexual assault occurs in Peace Corps countries worldwide, just as it does in the United States. You can avoid some of the risk by changing your own behavior. You will receive a thorough briefing on how to minimize this risk in Cameroon. If harassment or assault occurs, the safety and security manager, program managers, and Peace Corps medical officers are available to assist you. It is important that you report any incident(s) to the duty officers (medical or emergency) and receive appropriate care, including care for your emotional well-being. Medications are available to reduce your risk of pregnancy and infection with HIV after sexual contact, so it is important to contact the health unit immediately. The Peace Corps can also advise you about your options for prosecuting an attacker.
- While whistles and verbal harassment based on race or gender may be fairly common on the street, this behavior may be reduced if you abide by local cultural norms, dress conservatively, and respond according to the training you will receive.